The Short of It
Chill, parents: After more than a decade of research, child psychologists have ranked today's technology as just another environment—like the playground—where our kids spend their time.
According to child psychologists, like Yalda T. Uhls at UCLA, who studies how media affect children, parents have nothing to fear but fear itself when it comes to parenting in the digital age.
"Our teens are not growing into brain-dead zombies or emotionally stunted sociopaths," she explained in a recent op-ed. "In study after study of emotional and intelligence indicators, 21st-century children use media to connect with their friends and learn about the world, just like those of us who were children of the 20th century did."
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Uhls says the proof is in the past, and that every time a new technology is introduced, it becomes a new cultural battleground that parents need to learn how to navigate. For instance, she says, near the end of the 19th century, it was racy romantic novels that had kids enthralled and parents up in arms. By 1936, it was radio, which was dubbed a "new invader of the privacy of the home" that "brought many a disturbing influence in its wake," in the American Journal of Psychiatry at the time. And then there's, of course, TV, which parents held responsible for their kids' aggression and over-stimulation back in 1950.
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So while a recent Pew Research Center poll showed that 73 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds had smartphones and 24 percent go online "almost constantly," Uhls said our children are not only adapting, but sometimes actually thriving as they embrace 21st-century media.
"While research on the Internet and the developing brain is in the nascent stages, we can learn about our brain's ability to successfully adapt to new environments from past research," she wrote. "Studies show that our brains are incredibly plastic, and never more so than in early childhood and adolescence. As tweens and teens use the Internet and video games to connect with friends, their social brains are adapting quickly to this new environment. Remember, humans adapted and thrived in many different habitats and climates over thousands of years; as the digital natives continue to develop, so will their ability to adapt successfully to the online environment."
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I'm totally buying what Uhls is selling here. I've written a lot about the fact that it's time for us parents to stop fearing technology, embrace it as the new baseline, and then jump in and learn how to adapt.
Or as Uhls put it: "Instead of focusing our energy on being 'for' or 'against' technology, let's guide children in how to use it wisely and safely, let's help them make the most of this new place they love, while continuing to teach them the importance of face-time, discipline, and moderation. Judging by history, when this generation grows up, they'll be busy coping with their own fears of whatever new thing their kids are using."